In early 2002, the U.S. decided to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein and his brutal regime.

Sketchy claims of weapons of mass destruction notwithstanding, the Iraqi military was a potent adversary and one of the largest armies in the world. The U.S.-led coalition opted to invade from the south and head north toward Bagdad.

As the defender, the Iraqis had the advantage, so U.S. planners sought to divide Iraqi forces with a feint from the north, which meant working with the semi-autonomous Kurds.

Map of Kurdish populations in Iraq Turkey Iran
A map of Kurdish-inhabited areas. (CIA)

Long defiant of Saddam’s regime, the Iraqi Kurds were a good choice for a partner force. But the U.S. first had to persuade them — a task made harder by the U.S.’s previous broken promises, especially during the Gulf War in 1991.